The Scottish theatre industry has been evolving into a hub for contemporary theatre for the last 50 years. We definitely have our own identity for the kind of theatre we produce compared to the rest of the UK. We specialize in bringing realistic stories in many different forms and styles. As much as critically we supply some superb productions, many of those productions only just manage to get in enough audience members to gain a decent profit. There are only a rare few Scottish theatre productions that do a second tour or even return to the theatre of origin such as the Lyceum, Citz or Dundee rep. We need to ask what is the future of the Scottish theatre industry going to be?
Before we look to the future, let’s look at our successes. As much as there could be the argument that not all theatre productions need to be revived or brought back on tour, there should be more plays which are loved by audiences and brought back by demand. We have that in the case of ‘The Cheviot, Stag and the Black, Black oil’, by John McGrath, that play could come back time and time again, and audiences will flock to the theatre for the political satire that is now iconic in Scotland’s theatre history. This play is ingenious and is completely different from anything that’s out there, which is probably what makes it so popular, and why it has such a high demand.
Another play which is still spoken about and is known internationally is National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Black Watch’ written by Gregory Burke, this play was hailed as a triumph by critics and audiences alike. This is mainly because of the interesting semi verbatim writing, avenue staging and overall style that the piece contains. However, this play has been absent from Scottish Theatre for seven years, most likely due to the irrelevancy of this play within current times.
‘Glasgow Girls’ directed by Cora Bissett and written by David Greig, has an astonishing political message at its heart, it is loved by audiences for the great merger of cultures to showcase a pressing issue within Scotland. Cora Bissett’s one woman show ‘What Girls Are Made Of’ also is another hit from this fantastic director. These contemporary productions featuring firm political/social messages really appeal to Scottish audiences, mainly because of the execution of bringing these stories to stage by Bissett.
Both of these shows are musicals and obviously fit into a very mainstream theatre culture. Musicals gather a huge following and many people seem to connect more to musicals, perhaps they see it as a more accessible form of theatre than plays. The obvious example of this working is of course ‘Sunshine on Leith’ which is without a doubt the most successful Scottish musical, with it being a hit down south and all over the country. The only musical which I can see being just about as successful as ‘Sunshine on Leith’ is ‘Oor Wullie’ which is currently touring Scotland and is being hailed as a roaring success. I am lucky enough to be one of the critics to see this exciting production when it comes to Edinburgh next week.
Now we’ve looked at the successes of Scottish theatre, what could be the issues in the future? There seems to be a lack of bold or original plays which are accessible enough to connect with audiences. The issue we have is that the stories we are telling may just be too vanilla due to how much of a realistic scope our playwrights are taking at the world without diluting it with some stylization or comedy to make audiences see this as a piece of entertainment.
There are some amazing plays out there which have been written with great subtext which flows into a plot that has been created to engage, educate and entertain audiences by very creative playwrights. These plays are unfortunately not being given the budget to be properly produced by Creative Scotland, either that or some of these productions that are touring to some mainstream theatres, up and down the country are just not being given the recognition they deserve.
Ideally, Scotland should have so much variety and popularity in the theatre we produce, due to the endless amount of homegrown talent we have. However, it just seems like our talent is not able to flourish by some of their content not being accessible enough to mainstream theatre audiences, limitations on opportunities/funding, the suffocation from commercial touring theatre and the fact that most of our talent move down south to the west end to work.
It’s sad really, if we had more chances to fill Scottish theatres with our original productions created in Scotland then think of the independency our theatre industry would have.
Hopefully in the future, our staple theatres in Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen and Pitlochry will be funded more to continue to produce excellent homegrown productions which make our theatre industry even more prominent.
Written by Lewis C. Baird